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Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Stephen Rumph

Publication Year: 2011

In this groundbreaking, historically-informed semiotic study of late eighteenth-century music, Stephen Rumph focuses on Mozart to explore musical meaning within the context of Enlightenment sign and language theory. Illuminating his discussion with French, British, German, and Italian writings on signs and language, Rumph analyzes movements from Mozart’s symphonies, concertos, operas, and church music. He argues that Mozartian semiosis is best understood within the empiricist tradition of Condillac, Vico, Herder, or Adam Smith, which emphasized the constitutive role of signs within human cognition. Recognizing that the rationalist model of neoclassical rhetoric has guided much recent work on Mozart and his contemporaries, Rumph demonstrates how the dialogic tension between opposing paradigms enabled the composer to negotiate contradictions within Enlightenment thought.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

List of Music Examples

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-17

This book has benefited from the insights and critiques of many keen minds. I learned much from conversations with Michael Spitzer, Richard Will, Laurence Dreyfus, Marshall Brown, Matthew Head, Peter Hoyt, Lawrence Zbikowski, and Jacqueline Waeber. Robert Hatten kindly read portions of the manuscript, as did the late Raymond Monelle. Wendy Allanbrook also found time to offer generous, at times...

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pp. 1-10

In 1717 Alphonse Costadau, an obscure Dominican friar, published the first installment of his Traité des signes. He set himself an ambitious task: “My plan has been nothing less than to assemble in a single corpus the principal signs that serve to express our thoughts and that have been instituted for each purpose,whether to form and entertain a perfect human society or to serve the pleasures and...

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1. From Rhetoric to Semiotics

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pp. 11-43

“I no longer know what I am, or what I do.” Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio. Cherubino’s first aria in Le nozze di Figaro betrays a surprising uncertainty. Traditionally, operatic characters knew precisely what they were and what they did. Above all, they knew what they felt. Aria texts abound in emotive words, as when the Queen of the Night exclaims, “Hell’s vengeance cooks in my heart! Death and despair...

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2. The Sense of Touch in Don Giovanni

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pp. 44-77

Of all Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni has inspired the richest intellectual speculation, attracting such diverse commentators as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Søren Kierkegaard, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Camus, Jacques Lacan, and Bernard Williams.1 Yet while Giovanni himself has fascinated posterity, the Commendatore may have resonated more deeply with Mozart’s age. Living statues pervaded late eighteenth...

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3. Topics in Context

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pp. 78-107

John Locke complained in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that “one may observe, in all languages, certain words that, if they be examined, will be found in their first original, and their appropriated use, not to stand for any clear and distinct ideas.”1 Locke’s protest against the “abuse of words” reverberated throughout...

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4. Mozart and Marxism

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pp. 108-138

When SusanMcClary published her critique ofMozart’s Piano Concerto in G in 1984, she opened a Pandora’s box that her most determined critics have failed to nail shut. Her remarkable analysis ofMozart’s “musical dialectic” managed to draw the composer’s ineffable art into the orbit of Marxist critique. More precisely, McClary showed how the slow movement of Mozart’s concerto might embody...

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5. A Dubious Credo

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pp. 139-170

For over two centuries, Mozart’s “Credo” masses have huddled on the margins of scholarship, together with the rest of his Salzburg church music. Only a single article written over fifty years ago has explored the Masses in F and C, K. 192 and 257, in which Mozart treated the opening word of the Credo as a refrain. Critics and biographers have understandably neglected these modest specimens...

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6. Archaic Endings

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pp. 171-208

The first of Herder’s Kritische Wälder (1769) aims a telling critique at Lessing’s Laokoon, published three years earlier. The dispute concerns a passage from the Iliad in which Apollo hides Hector, pursued by Achilles, beneath a cloud (xx: 441–54). Lessing had interpreted the cloud metaphorically: “In poetic language, this means nothing more than that Achilles was so enraged that he no longer saw...

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pp. 209-212

How does the history of Enlightenment semiotics end? Music historians have a clear enough answer, or so recent studies suggest. Around 1800, it is claimed, expression supplanted imitation as the dominant aesthetic paradigm in music and the other arts; in M. H. Abrams’s famous metaphor, the artwork changed frommirror...


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pp. 213-238


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pp. 239-256


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pp. 257-265

Production Notes, Ad

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pp. 266-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780520950115
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520260863

Page Count: 286
Publication Year: 2011